Authors: Christine Feehan
“I never thought of it that way. You’ve hunted countless vampires. Do you get the same feeling when you fight them?”
He gave that thought. “Not exactly. It is more a stimulation of the mind. A newly made vampire is generally easy to defeat because he does not have the discipline necessary to wait for an advantage. Vampires are vain and like their egos stroked, especially a master vampire. Someone like Sergey, or his brother Vadim,
have admiration. Deprive them of it and their calm façade of civility disappears.”
“I can’t imagine what Elisabeta went through for all those centuries at his hands.”
“The thought of a vampire having one of our women for even a few minutes, let alone centuries, is horrifying. Their cruelty knows no limits. They crave seeing the suffering of others. How did you two become friends? I hear in your voice that you care about her.” He made certain to keep any surprise over that to himself. Julija seemed overly sensitive and he didn’t want any more tears when he had no idea how best to deal with them.
She hesitated for just a moment as if she might not tell him, but then she capitulated. “I connected with Elisabeta before Sergey’s vampires captured me and brought me to that horrid room where they were allowing their puppets to bite into children.”
“She was hidden.”
“Yes, but I’ve studied illusions from the time I was young, so I recognize them. I felt her presence. She’s quite strong in spite of what Sergey’s
done to her. He’s made her believe she isn’t, but I felt her power. She was trying to get out of the bars that held her in order to save the child. The emotions in her were so intense I locked on her right away and was able to bring the illusion to light. Sergey had made her cage, with her in it, part of the cavern wall. The first time, throwing out power together, we were able to stop the puppet. Sergey was angry, but at the same time he was curious. That saved my life I think.”
He liked her voice. It was soothing and peaceful. Even when she was giving him a hard time and she sounded snippy, he liked her voice. He knew he would be able to listen to it for the rest of his life.
“I worry for her. She says she has a lifemate . . .”
Isai frowned. That didn’t sound right. Ferro had only told the others two nights earlier that he was Elisabeta’s lifemate. “When did you talk to her?”
“Just a little while ago.”
He heard the innocence in her voice. She didn’t realize that the surge of power would not only draw her brothers, but any vampires in the area. Sergey desperately wanted Elisabeta back. If Elisabeta responded to Julija, he would recognize her energy. He’d held her prisoner for too many centuries not to do so.
The two women also had no idea that talking across a long distance could be difficult for even the most powerful of Carpathians. She spoke of conversing with Elisabeta casually, as if it wasn’t in the least an effort.
“Did you contact her first, or did she contact you?” He wanted to know which of the two held the bridge between them.
“The first time I contacted her.” She frowned. “Maybe I did each time.” She shivered and rubbed her hands up and down her arms. “I feel her. She’s so afraid.”
“She has reason to be. Sergey refuses to give her up and is calling to her every night, trying to scare her into giving herself up to him. Ferro is with her now. He will make certain, when she rises, that she will be safe.”
“You and I both know that is much easier said than done,” Julija said. “What happens if she never rises?”
“Ferro will not allow that. He is different. He’s always been different.
Of all of us, he is the one most to fear. Perhaps he is Elisabeta’s lifemate for a reason. He is the most dangerous, the deadliest hunter, and has experiences many do not. Should he face Sergey and his army of vampires, I have no doubt he would cut a wide path through them.”
“Is he a gentle man?”
He could hear the fearful note in her voice and wished he could reassure her. “He will be whatever she needs, Julija.” The moment the words left his mouth, he was ashamed. Guilty. He should have been what Julija needed. “Perhaps I misspoke. Ferro, like me, was locked away from the world for a couple of centuries. Time passed us by and modern ways elude us.”
“Elisabeta was locked up as well,” Julija pointed out hopefully. “She says if she tried to run, Ferro would just bind her to him with the ritual binding words.”
He permitted himself a smile. There was no doubt in his mind that Ferro would do such a thing. “That is true.”
“How is that different from Sergey caging her? Please don’t get angry with me. I’m really trying to find out the difference. Ferro would go after her if she ran, wouldn’t he?”
He nodded only because he could hear the frustration and genuine interest in her voice. She was trying her best to understand their culture. “Ferro and Elisabeta are two halves of the same whole. Without Ferro, she will never be happy. Nor will he. There is no one else for either of them. Elisabeta will accept that. She may have been taken as a teenager, but she is well versed in the Carpathian rituals. She would have been told early, from the time she was a child, that somewhere her lifemate searched for her. Ferro knows this and would never allow her to run away from him because she was scared or was trying to prove something to herself.”
She was silent a moment, and he could see she was trying to understand. “Isai, what if she
need to prove something to herself? Isn’t that something he should take into consideration? Or maybe she just needs time to figure things out.”
Isai was fairly certain they had gone from talking about Ferro and Elisabeta to talking about them. “Mostly, little mage, she is afraid. Fear
is an emotion that can paralyze one or have them run—the flight-or-fight response kicks in.”
She regarded him with great suspicion. “How do you even know about that? You’ve been locked up in a monastery, and yet you somehow can quote flight-or-fight response?”
“We have to absorb all knowledge quickly. It is a gift. It is also part of our culture to continue to learn. The moment we left the monastery, we had to transfer knowledge from other Carpathians to us. We also can gain knowledge from other species as well as through books and now computers. We absorb such things.”
“Then why didn’t you absorb the part where husbands do
spank their wives?”
He refused to smile. He didn’t dare, that could get him into a lot more trouble. They seemed to continuously circle back to that particular transgression of his. Still, he couldn’t help but like her little flares of temper. It was perverse of him, but every time she got that tone, his entire body reacted.
“If I am to be very honest with you, I will admit I did see that this was no longer an accepted practice. On the other hand, simply because we have that knowledge does not mean we must accept it.”
Her dark eyes picked up the candlelight so little twin flames flickered in her eyes. “You are beyond all reason, Isai. You knew you shouldn’t and yet you still did.”
“You knew you shouldn’t taunt me so disrespectfully and yet you still did,” he retaliated, refusing to take all blame.
“A war of words is not the same as putting your hand on someone. Especially someone you care about. Child or woman,” she informed him in her most chastising voice.
“That is what they teach you now, little mage, but what of the child who refuses to stay away from the water when he cannot swim? Or he runs out in front of a car, disobeying your orders to stay out of the street? How do you treat the unruly child who refuses to listen?”
She flung her hands into the air. “You are making me crazy.
I’m trying to make things right between us, but you are insisting on
remaining that man from a distant century. Maybe spanking a
because a saber-toothed tiger might eat him would be appropriate, but we’re long past those dangers.”
“Drowning and getting hit by a car are equally as dangerous as getting eaten by a saber-toothed tiger. Your argument has no merit.”
He liked that she wanted to make things right between them. Still, he had to disappoint her. He didn’t want to, but he needed to let her know the risk. “Julija, I think it is a good thing that you reach out and befriend Elisabeta. She needs that, and I think you do as well. Unfortunately, you have opened yourself up to Sergey’s scrutiny. He will be looking for the mage powerful enough to reach the woman he claims as his own.”
She frowned, her dark eyebrows pulling close to each other. “He can’t claim her. She isn’t his. He had no right.”
“No, he did not. As you well know, many people turn ugly for various reasons. Money. Power. Sex. Whatever the reason. They want something others have. Sergey and his brothers didn’t want to follow the prince. They felt they were powerful enough to lead the Carpathian people. It isn’t about the kind of power they perceive, but they didn’t understand that and probably still don’t.”
“Would sex be the reason for taking Elisabeta?”
“Sergey could not make her his woman, not in the sense of raping her body. He could rape her mind. He could do things to her body, but he couldn’t perform the sex act with her in the accepted sense. I know vampires have tried to do so with victims they chose to torture further before draining them of blood, but it would have killed her and Sergey knows it.”
“Then why take her?”
“Because she is pure light. Elisabeta brings him what he cannot have for himself ever again. When making the decision to become vampire, a deliberate choice, he prepared by kidnapping her and making her his prisoner. He was very clever. She gave him emotion. She kept his body from decomposing. She gave him Carpathian blood, the strongest there is. Because of Elisabeta, he could take a back seat to his brothers and plot to become emperor. No one would see him as anything but weak. No
master vampire would tolerate that kind of disrespect, but Elisabeta gave him that power.”
“Will Ferro spank her if she misbehaves?” Her voice was low, and she gave him a look from her dark chocolate eyes that should have melted him. It did, but it was his heart that did the melting.
Isai burst out laughing. “You’re never going to let that go, are you?”
“Absolutely not. You’ll be hearing about it until the day you die,” she assured him.
He wasn’t touching that one. “How about we drop this argument for a while and you tell me something about yourself.” At first, he had thought to keep his distance from Julija so when he left it wouldn’t hurt so much, but for some reason he couldn’t fathom, he really wanted to get to know her. Already, everything she said and did just made him want her more. His interest was genuine, and his sincerity came through in his tone.
“I love to play the piano,” she offered without hesitation.
He lifted his head to look her directly in the eyes. Her face lit up, and her eyes went bright. Her immediate answer was the last thing he expected from her. He didn’t know why. Maybe because of all things, music brought him a semblance of peace when he was so alone. It didn’t make him feel anything, so it had never made sense, but when he heard music, everything wild in him stilled.
“The piano?” Deliberately, he provoked her. He found he didn’t like Julija subdued. He infused skepticism into his voice. “You play?”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “You do know what a piano is, don’t you?”
“I certainly do, but am having a difficult time believing you do. It takes discipline to master the keyboard. You do not have discipline in abundance.” The moment the words left his mouth, he felt the sting of an insect on his left cheek, low, by the corner of his mouth. He clapped his hand over what should have been a bug but was nothing but air. He glared at Julija. She sat there looking innocent. Too innocent.
“Did you just zap me?”
She lifted one hand and inspected her fingernails. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” The moment the words left her mouth, she felt
the smack of a hard hand on her bottom, which was impossible because she was sitting. She jumped and glared at him. “We are about to go to war.”
“You fired the first shot, little mage.”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, fine, I surrender.”
He was almost disappointed. He liked sparring with her better than he should have. “I was teasing about you playing the piano,” he conceded. “You’re very . . .” He searched for the proper word.
He didn’t use words like that to describe his woman.
Fiery. Passionate. Sexy.
He finally settled on, “I like it, and I shouldn’t have baited you.” She looked pleased and he sighed with relief that he got something right with her.
“I actually was teasing you a little bit, too,” she admitted. “I didn’t mind. In fact, I kind of liked zapping you.”
“I knew you did it.”
She looked smug. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg in case you’re rethinking our truce.”
He held up his hands in surrender. “Tell me what you like about playing the piano.”
playing the piano because it gives me a sense of peace. I can go far away from everything and everyone and just fall into the music. It transports me to a safe place. At least it feels safe.”
He went still inside. Her statement revealed a lot about her. So far, he’d been more than respectful, not reading her mind but waiting for her to give consent. It didn’t appear as if that was going to happen anytime soon. He needed to know everything about Julija.
“Music saved me a time or two,” he admitted. “In the high reaches of the Carpathian Mountains, locked away from even those who could provide us with blood, we spent the days pursuing our fighting skills and trying to fill empty hours with other arts. Some painted. I chose music. I studied it as much as possible. There were others who came and went. They would bring back to us supplies or knowledge we needed to continue to grow. They stayed a few years, sometimes as long as a century, and then they would leave us.”
“How did you feed?”
Just the fact that she knew to use the word
told him she was well versed in the Carpathian culture. Unexpectedly, that hurt all over again.